Jacqueline "Jackie" Joyner-Kersee was born on March 3, 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois, and was named after Jackie Kennedy. She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals, in those two events at four different Olympic Games. Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century, just ahead of Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Joyner-Kersee's childhood was set in the dark ages of women's sport, when athletic girls spent their time racing boys and playing on their teams. The second oldest of Mary and Alfred Joyner's four children, raised in the south-end slums of East St. Louis, Ill., she was first a dancer, then a cheerleader. When she discovered track and field at age nine, she and her friends would carry sand in potato-chip bags they found in a nearby playground and spread it in front of the Joyners' porch, creating a makeshift long jump pit. There were none of the elite travel teams that nurture the athletic careers of talented girls in the '90s. There was, instead, a man named Nino Fennoy, who coached a junior track team called the East St. Louis Railers and who gave Joyner-Kersee the means to learn about herself. (It is telling of Joyner-Kersee's generation that one of the most important moments in her life came at the age of 14, when she beat her older brother, Al, in a race. "He still says he won," says Jackie, "but he didn't.")
Joyner-Kersee was one of the first children of Title IX. She was 10 years old when the groundbreaking legislation was passed in 1972, mandating equal access to sports for men and women across the country. A brilliant athlete, she also became a surrogate parent to the later offspring of Title IX, her career beginning in one era of women's sport and ending in another. "When I was little, a lot of women's sports heroes were gymnasts and figure skaters, and I just could not relate to those sports," says Julie Foudy, Hamm's U.S. soccer teammate and, like Hamm, a teenager during Joyner-Kersee's finest days. "Jackie I could relate to."
In 2007,Joyner-Kersee helped establish Athletes for Hope along with such sports heroes as Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali and Mia Hamm. This organization supports and encourages athletes "to make a difference in the world," according to its website.She Co-wrote her autobiography with Sonja Steptoe,A Kind of Grace: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Female Athlete,in 1997. Joyner-Kersee joined the board of the USA Track & Field organization in 2012.